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How to Stop ISP Throttling Using a VPN

Updated: January 3, 2022 By Dean Chester

ISP throttling and VPN

Image source - Shutterstock

During your regular internet usage, you may sometimes experience a painfully slow internet connection. At that point, you can no longer enjoy your online TV shows due to buffering or low quality, your downloads become quite slow, and online gaming lags.

In most cases, this happens because your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is throttling your internet connection. This can happen for various reasons, but all in all, it is quite frustrating – especially if you have paid for high-speed internet access. The good thing is there’s something you can do about it and maximize your online experience. This guide will show you the best way to stop ISP throttling and enjoy your high-speed internet without restrictions.

The guide will also explore:

  • What ISP throttling is.
  • Why ISPs throttle connections.
  • How to know you are being throttled.
  • Online activities that often get throttled.

What Is ISP Throttling and How Does it Work?

ISP throttling is an intentional technique that ISPs use to restrict bandwidth accessible to a particular user.

Throttling may depend on various factors that the ISP sets. When restricting the internet connection, ISPs filter what is to be throttled and what isn’t. This can be done through traffic differentiation or prioritization.

ISP throttling results in fast lanes and slow lanes, just like on highways. Fast lanes allow unthrottled traffic and can include some prioritization. Slow lanes carry throttled traffic, and this is where you experience a slow internet connection.

Types of ISP Throttling

To understand how to deal with ISP throttling, below are the various types of connection restrictions that ISP imposes.

  • Bandwidth throttling: This involves regulating the rate at which you can transfer data or the amount of data you can transfer at a given moment. This can result in slow speeds at peak hours and full speeds at specific times. This is the type of ISP throttling we will show you how to bypass.
  • Bandwidth capping: This involves limiting the rate or amount of data you can transfer when your quota is up or depending on the subscription plan. This usually depends on your data plan.

Commonly Throttled Online Activities

ISPs usually throttle activities that are either speed or bandwidth-intensive. These activities include streaming (Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO, YouTube, Hulu, among others), online gaming (Destiny 2, Fortnite, CS:GO, etc.), and filesharing.

Online activities that are often spared include web browsing, social media, and VoIP services such as Skype, Zoom, among others.

Is it a Bad Internet Connection, Or Are you Being Throttled?

A slow internet connection and a throttled internet connection may look the same. It gets worse since a slow internet connection may indicate throttling. However, before you conclude that a slow internet connection is a sign that you’re being throttled, ensure that the issue is not on your side.

Tips to Improve a Bad Internet Connection

  • Restart your router.
  • Place your router strategically/move near the router.
  • Disconnect other data-intensive devices.
  • Use an ethernet cable – Wi-Fi can be weak due to interferences.
  • Check if the internet service is down – you will need to call your ISP.
  • Upgrade/update your router or modem.

Indicators of Internet throttling

If you don’t have a bad internet connection, your slow internet is probably caused by ISP throttling. You might experience the following telltale signs:

  • A drastic drop in speed while torrenting or downloading files.
  • Streaming takes forever to load, buffers, or has low resolution.
  • Unable to stream/torrent/download while web browsing works fine.
  • Unacceptable lags in online gaming.

How to Test if You are Being Throttled

Indicators can be wrong at times. For instance, if a torrent site is down, you won’t be able to download content. To make sure it’s ISP throttling, here are some tests you can perform on your internet.

  • Internet speed test – A speed test can indicate whether you’re being throttled or not. To test your connection for ISP throttling, proceed as follows:
    1. Disconnect all other devices and ensure you have no downloads on your testing device.
    2. Launch a speed test and take around three readings.

If you have paid for 100 Mbps and the speed test results show significantly lower values, then your ISP is throttling your internet at that moment.

  • Internet speed test while using a VPN – This test involves the use of a reputable VPN. Proceed as follows:
    1. Do an internet speed test as shown above.
    2. Launch a fast VPN and connect to your closest server. (Use recommended settings).
    3. Do a second speed test while the VPN is active.
    4. Compare both results.

If there’s a massive speed increase while using a VPN, then your ISP is throttling your connection.

How to Stop ISP Throttling Using a VPN

Using a VPN is the most reliable to stop ISP throttling. It is also the most effective tool for improving your online security, privacy, and speed.

For your ISP to throttle your internet connection, they must see what you are doing online. To achieve this, they use various techniques such as deep packet inspection (DPI) and analyzing tools to determine your type of traffic.

When you use a VPN, it encrypts your entire traffic and prevents your ISP from knowing what you are accessing. The only thing they can tell is that you are connected to a VPN, and so they won’t be able to impose any restrictions.

This means that when you power on your VPN, you will be able to unlock all your bandwidth. You will also be able to bypass geo-restrictions and gain access to blocked content.

It’s important to note that in some countries, ISPs block the use of VPNs. In such a case, you will need to use a VPN that offers an obfuscation/ scramble feature. A recommendation here is Surfshark or NordVPN.

Here’s a procedure on how to bypass ISP throttling in a few minutes:

  1. Get a VPN subscription with a reliable VPN.
  2. Download and install the VPN app on your device(s).
  3. Sign in to the app using your credentials.
  4. Connect to a VPN server.

From there, you can enjoy a private, anonymous, secure, and unrestricted connection.

When a VPN won’t Help

A VPN won’t help you bypass your data plan/bundle quota (bandwidth capping). This is because your ISP keeps a profile on how much data you use. Even though your ISP won’t know what you’re doing when using a VPN, you won’t be allowed to exceed your quota. Some ISPs will disconnect your internet connection when you hit your quota.

However, a VPN might bypass bandwidth capping when a soft data cap is used. This is possible if your ISP offers a plan where speeds reduce after hitting a set quota, something common with unlimited data plans. For instance, after 500GB, you might get a speed cap of 3 Mbps. A VPN might be able to increase your speeds, but this is not guaranteed.

Free VPNs and ISP throttling

Free VPNs are enticing, but they won’t help you stop ISP throttling in the long run. This is because free VPNs also throttle your bandwidth – they offer limited bandwidth, and some impose speed caps. You will bypass ISP throttling for a while, but the VPN will start to throttle your connection once you hit the set limit. Most free VPNs naturally cap speeds even during the first use.

Nonetheless, there are a few reliable free VPNs that can increase your security and privacy. Note that most free VPNs cover their operational cost by either pushing ads or selling your data to third parties. On top of that, the ads may contribute to a significant data overhead, and you will hit your limit faster.

Another reason why a free VPN may not help you stop ISP throttling is that they offer limited servers that are already congested, and most of them also lack the ability to bypass restriction blocks.

Other Ways to Stop ISP Throttling

A VPN is the most reliable means of bypassing ISP throttling. However, there are a few other methods you can try.

  • Switch to an ISP with less throttling or without data caps: Some ISPs may offer a service that suits your internet usage better. This includes offers that favor online streaming and downloading content.
  • Upgrade your internet plan: Upgrading your plan may offer wider limits for data caps. This is because base plans may be limited to web browsing.
  • Reduce your data usage.

Reasons why ISPs Throttle the Internet Connection

Most ISP’s throttle your bandwidth to save money. Since they don’t want to upgrade to meet the incessant internet demand, throttling enables them to cater to all subscribers. Here are other top reasons for internet throttling:

  • Ease network congestion: During peak hours, congestion is likely to occur, and this can make the service unstable for everyone. To ensure everyone gets connected to the internet, ISPs may throttle bandwidth-intensive activities.
  • Paid prioritization: Sometimes, the ISP may throttle your internet connection to eliminate unwanted competition. For instance, connections to other online streaming services may be throttled if an ISP offers streaming services.

Additionally, other companies may pay the ISP to enable fast lanes to their services. As a result, some users will be throttled and experience slower connection speeds.

  • Implement data caps: If you have exhausted your data plan quota, your ISP will throttle your connection or disconnect you from the internet. By enforcing the data cap, they can use the network capacity to cater to other subscribers. This type of throttling is usually stated in the service agreement.
  • Prevent unwanted activities: ISPs may throttle connections to services or activities they deem unwanted. Depending on the jurisdiction, this can include torrenting copyrighted material, downloading sensitive content, or even illegal online activities.
  • Enforce upgrades: If your online activities are bandwidth-intensive or you are downloading/ streaming on multiple devices, your ISP may force you to upgrade to another expensive plan by throttling the connection.

ISP throttling and Net neutrality

Net neutrality regulations vouch for an open internet for everyone through its principle of an equal internet for all users and activities. That is, ISPs should not block, throttle, or allow paid prioritization on their service or discriminate against certain users or activities. However, most net neutrality regulations have failed to take hold, and ISPs argue that net neutrality could hinder innovation and even service delivery.

This means that, in most countries, ISPs are allowed to throttle your internet connection.

Wrap up

ISP throttling slows your internet connection, and this can result in a poor online experience. While some reasons such as ensuring efficient service delivery to everyone in peak hours may make sense, it still remains a huge inconvenience.

The good thing is you can stop ISP throttling and enhance your online experience. The best way to do that is through a reliable VPN, as it hides all your activities from the ISP. If you choose your VPN well, you'll also improve your online privacy and security and even bypass geo-restrictions and censorships put in place by the ISP.

✔️ Advanced information to protect your Internet connection

Senior Researcher
Dean Chester
Cybersecurity and online privacy expert and researcher. He's been published on OpenVPN, EC-Council Blog, DevSecOps, AT-T Business, SAP Community, etc. Dean has been testing VPNs for 8 years.

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